Detroit Bikes: Reinventing the Motor City

What comes to mind when you hear the name Detroit? For many, it’s synonymous with the automobile and evokes images of the golden age of cars, when big, new vehicles rolled off the General Motors assembly lines by the thousands and union workers were promised the prosperity of the modern age. It was post World War II, the zenith of American manufacturing. It was an era and an idea that has forever shaped the landscape of how people around the world think about transportation.

Still known as the ‘Motor City’, Detroit is a much different place today. Gone is the age of prosperity and grand scale manufacturing. The automotive industry has largely reinvented itself elsewhere and left economic decay in its wake, but there is an unlikely glimmer of hope on the horizon of this once great city, and it is being cast from an unlikely upstart, Detroit Bikes.

Microsoft Detroit Bikes Video from Detroit Bikes.

The irony is inescapable—the pride and juggernaut of American manufacturing which drove transportation since Henry Ford’s introduction of the Model T came crashing down, giving way to one of the very things it was meant to replace, the humble bicycle. Detroit Bikes may not rival the former economic dominance of the automotive industry, but it is a healthy first step in reintroducing the bicycle as a viable form of transportation and in revitalizing Detroit.

Why would anyone think to start up a bike company in the very city that actively sought to erase the bicycle from the transportation lexicon? Founder Zak Pashak’s background would in no way lead one to believe that running a bicycle manufacturing operation would lie in his future. He had made a name for himself on the music scene in Calgary, Canada and even made a bid for public office at one point. But one evening while riding in a cab, the driver complained to Pashak that all the new bike lanes in their city were being made for just a few nutcase cyclists. This got Zak to thinking that really, those lanes were for everyone and should be used by more, everyday people.

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After this cathartic event, he went in search of bikes that could suit the ordinary rider, something for the bike lanes. What he found was nothing. It seemed the cab driver might be right, because all he could find was high-end bikes that only hardcore cyclists would ride. So this entrepreneur decided to change course and start building bikes for the non-enthusiasts out there, those who just needed a viable way to get around in the changing landscape of urban transportation.

In figuring out his next move, Pashak saw something special in Detroit. Given his music industry background, maybe he was swayed a little by the Motown Sound produced by once iconic Detroit record label of the same name, but there was more.

With a rich history behind them, the people of Detroit had not only an immense amount of pride in their city, they also held an historic amount of manufacturing know how. Building cars for generations surely created an identity for Detroit, but it was the ‘we build things’ blue collar manufacturing legacy that would form the foundation for Pashak’s new brainchild. This once great automotive manufacturing city represented fallow ground that could prove fertile for a new style company, Detroit Bikes.

After securing capital, Pashak started production of Detroit Bikes in 2012. While huge, mainstream brands sell bikes to suit just about any need, he decided to keep the company’s offerings simple and directed to a smaller audience. He was convinced during his fateful cab ride that bike commuting should be a viable way for everyone to get around, not just the domain of dedicated cyclists. With this in mind he set about introducing a couple models that could get both everyday people and commuting enthusiasts riding on two wheels.

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Focusing on providing bikes that are clean looking, sturdy, and promise reliable transportation, the company presented the A-Type and B-Type. Both feature design elements that have held true for generations making them comfortable and approachable for anyone willing to give them a try. And while they do sport immensely practical features like racks and fenders, they still boast a stylistically clean aesthetic appealing to the forward leaning urban fashion set. Best of all though, by keeping their bikes simple, Detroit Bikes is building solid and fun transportation that anyone can afford.

So does this mean that the Motor City is going to take on a new nickname sometime soon? Well, probably not, but Detroit Bikes is trying to spread the good word about bikes on their home turf and have joined a local ride called Slow Roll to get more people in Detroit moving and having fun on bicycles. Slow Roll is Michigan’s largest bike ride with over 3,000 people who meet every Monday. Now in its sixth year, it’s a non-competitive cruise around the city giving participants a chance to check out their city in a festive and safe group atmosphere. Having grown so large, Slow Roll has even garnered the support of the Detroit Police Department which now gives the ride its very own escort.

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Where does Detroit Bikes go from here? Like any company their hope is that a few years down the road they will be making progress toward healthy growth, but that doesn’t mean they are aiming to look like so many other bike brands out there. Sure they want to expand beyond the original two bikes, which they are already doing to a degree with some contract building for bike sharing programs and custom fleet projects. But at the end of the day, the goal is still to make good products for good people, spread the bike-as-good-transportation message and make positive changes in the great city of Detroit.